Brexit: Opportunities

– in the House of Commons at 12:09 pm on 16 September 2021.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General 12:09, 16 September 2021

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement, which is also being made in the other place, on the opportunities the country has now that we have left the European Union.

While we were a member of the EU some of the most difficult issues that Governments of both main parties faced were to do with regulations, such as services directives, REACH—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—reforms of agricultural policy, and very many pieces of financial services legislation. Often such laws reflected unsatisfactory compromises with the other EU members. We knew that if we did not rescue something from the legislative sausage machine, as it were, we would be voted down and get nothing. These laws were designed to lock every country, no matter its strengths or weaknesses, into the same uniform structures, and they were often overly detailed and prescriptive. Moreover, the results usually either had direct legal effect in the United Kingdom or were passed into our law through secondary legislation; either way, that involves very limited genuine democratic scrutiny. This Government were elected to get Brexit done and to change this situation, and that is exactly what we will do.

Much has already been changed of course but, given the extent of EU influence over nearly half a century, the task is a mammoth one. To begin it, we asked my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith to lead a team to examine our existing laws and future opportunities. They reported back earlier this year and since then my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my noble Friend Lord Frost have been considering that taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform—TIGRR—report in some depth. Lord Frost is today writing to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green with our formal response to his report and, more importantly, our plans to act on the basis of his report. Lord Frost is sharing the Government’s formal response with Committee Chairs and will deposit it in the Libraries of both Houses; it will also be available shortly on I will now highlight some of the most important elements of our plans.

First, we will conduct a review of so-called retained EU law; by this, I mean the many pieces of legislation that we took on to our own statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We must now revisit this huge but anomalous category of law, and we have two purposes in mind. First, we intend to remove the special status of retained EU law so that it is no longer a distinct category of UK domestic law but is normalised within our law with a clear legislative status. Unless we do that, we risk giving undue precedence to laws derived from EU legislation over laws made properly by this Parliament. The review also involves ensuring that all courts in this country have the full ability to depart from EU case law according to the normal rules. In so doing, we will continue restoring this sovereign Parliament and our courts to their proper constitutional positions, and indeed finalise that process.

Our second goal is to review comprehensively the substantive content of retained EU law. Some of that is already under way—for example, our plans to reform inherited procurement rules and the plan announced last autumn by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to review much financial services legislation. But we will make this a comprehensive exercise, and I want to make it clear that our intention is eventually to amend, replace or repeal all retained EU law that is not right for the UK. That is a legislative problem, and accordingly the solution is also likely to be legislative. We will consider all the options for taking this forward, and in particular look at developing a tailored mechanism for accelerating the repeal or amendment of retained EU law in a way that reflects the fact that laws agreed elsewhere have intrinsically less democratic legitimacy than laws initiated by the Government of this country.

We also intend to begin a new series of reforms of the legislation we have inherited on EU exit, in many cases as recommended by the TIGRR report. Let me give some examples. We intend to create a pro-growth trusted data rights regime that is more proportionate and less burdensome than the EU’s GDPR—general data protection regulation—and the previous Culture Secretary, my right hon. Friend Oliver Dowden, on 10 September announced a consultation that is the first stage in putting new rules in place.

We intend to review the inherited approach to genetically modified organisms—GMOs—which is too restrictive and not based on sound science. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will also shortly set out plans to reform the regulation of gene-edited organisms. We will use the provisions of the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 to overhaul our clinical trial frameworks, which are based on outdated EU legislation, giving a major boost to the UK’s world-class research and development sector and getting patients access to new life-saving medicines more quickly. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is already reforming the medical devices regulations to create a world-leading regime in this area.

We will also unleash Britain’s potential as a world leader in the future of transport. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will next week set out ambitious plans including modernising outdated EU vehicle standards and unlocking the full range of new transport technologies. We also intend to repeal the EU’s court services regulations, a good example of a regulation that was geared heavily towards EU interests and frankly never worked for the UK. We will drive forward our work on artificial intelligence, where the UK is already at the forefront of driving global progress. We will shortly publish the UK’s first national AI strategy, setting out our plans to supercharge the UK’s AI ecosystem and set standards which will be world leading.

As recommended by TIGRR and the Penrose review and promised in the current consultation on reforming the better regulation framework, we will put in place much more rigorous tests within Government before taking the decision to regulate. Now that we have control over all our laws, not just a subset of them, we will consider the reintroduction of a one in, two out system, which has been shown internationally to make a significant difference.

Finally, Brexit was about once again giving everyone in this country a say in how it is run, and that is true in this area, too; we aim to tap into everyone’s ideas. Accordingly, we will create a new standing commission under visible and energetic leadership to receive ideas from any British citizen on how to repeal or improve regulations. The commission’s job will be to consider such ideas and make recommendations for change, but it will only be able to make recommendations to us in one way: in the direction of reducing or eliminating burdens. I hope in this way we will tap into the collective wisdom of the British people and begin to remove the dominance of the arbitrary rule of unknown origin over people’s day-to-day lives.

Let me finish by being clear that this is just the beginning of our ambitious plans. I will return to this House regularly to update Members on our progress and, more importantly, to set out further intentions. Brexit was about taking back control: the ability to remove the distortions created by EU membership and to do things differently in ways that work better for this country and promote growth, productivity and prosperity. That is what we intend to do.

I recognise Brexit was not a choice originally supported by all in this country, or even by some in this House, but Brexit is now a fact. This country has now embarked upon a great voyage. We each have the opportunity to make this new journey a success—to make us more contented, more prosperous and more united—and I hope everyone will join us in achieving that. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 12:19, 16 September 2021

Let me begin by welcoming the Paymaster General to his new role. I thank him for advance sight of his statement. In fact, I imagine he had about as much advance sight of it as I did—11.40? However, I sympathise with him, not just for being thrown into this particular deep end, but for the title that was given to him for today’s statement.

Before I go into that, let me say that the proposals that the Paymaster General has mentioned will demand careful consideration once we have been able to examine the detail. For example, he mentioned the recent Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport proposals for reform of the data regime. If they are anything to go by, every measure in that package will need to be carefully considered, not just on its own merits but for the implications for our trading relationship with Europe. There was also reference in the statement to GMOs, research and development, vehicle standards and artificial intelligence, and all kinds of other things may be hidden in the huge category of law that has yet to be reviewed. We will come back to this, I have no doubt.

Let me return to the title of the statement: “Brexit: Opportunities”. That is the title, yet the country faces continuing shortages of staff and supplies, exacerbated by the Government’s Brexit deal, while businesses across the country face mounting losses in trade with Europe directly caused by the Government’s Brexit deal, and the people of Northern Ireland remain stuck in limbo as the Government refuse to implement the Brexit deal that they negotiated. Into all that, along comes the new Paymaster General to talk about all the wonderful opportunities that await us because of the marvellous Brexit deal, which is working so well at present. If he will excuse the unkind metaphor on the first day of his new job, it is a bit like the Pudding Lane baker strolling around the great fire of London asking people running for their lives if they have any orders for Christmas.

On the issue of opportunities, I will happily have a debate with the Paymaster General, whenever he wants to have one, about how the Government are wasting the opportunities of Brexit when it comes to the lack of ambition and innovation in both the roll-over trade deals they agreed last year and the new negotiations that they have begun since. I will happily have a debate, too, whenever he wants to have one, on the merits of the Government’s strategy to downgrade trade with Europe in favour of trade with Asia, on the fantastical basis that we can make up all the losses our exporters are facing in their trade with the EU through the gains that we will make through trade with the Asia-Pacific. The flagship policy of that strategy is the UK’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, according to the Government’s own figures, will produce a £1.7 billion increase in UK exports to those Asia-Pacific countries over a 15-year period. That is roughly a third of what we exported to Luxembourg last year alone—the covid-affected year.

I will happily debate that strategy with the Paymaster General on another day, but what I want to focus on today, and what I urge him to focus on in the new role he has been given, is not the imagined opportunities of Brexit that might happen in the next year, two years or five years, but the real practicalities that need sorting out today—the holes that need fixing in our deal with Europe to support British businesses through this period of economic recovery and resolve the impasse in Northern Ireland.

Can the Paymaster General tell us where we stand on the Government’s efforts to secure mutual recognition of professional qualifications and regulatory equivalence for financial services, so that our key growth industries in the professional and financial sectors can get back to doing busines in Europe with the speed and simplicity that they enjoyed before Brexit? Can he tell us where the Government stand in their efforts to seek mutual recognition of conformity assessments to remove the double testing of products that is costing our key industries both time and money? Can he tell us not just what the latest plan is to kick the can down the road in Northern Ireland, but how we are going to reach a sustainable and permanent solution?

On that note, may I ask the Paymaster General to clear up one specific mystery, which relates to the Cabinet Office? In March last year, without publicity and without an open consultation, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs paid McKinsey consultants £1 million for eight weeks’ work to provide

“the most effective solutions to ensure food security and choice is maintained for consumers in Northern Ireland” after checks on GB-NI goods were introduced. My question to the Paymaster General is this: if the best brains at McKinsey were given two months and £1 million by the Government to examine that problem and come up with a solution, what is the answer that they provided? Is the reality that they, like the Government, have no better alternative solution than a veterinary agreement—the solution that businesses want, the solution that the EU says would work, the solution that every Opposition party in this House supports, but the solution that Ministers are refusing to consider?

That brings me to my final question—the great unanswered question when it comes to Brexit practicalities, which I hope the Paymaster General will not try to evade as so many of his predecessors have. When Lord Frost was asked on 24 June why he would not pursue the option, even in the short term, of a veterinary agreement with the European Union to resolve many of the problems at the border, he said:

“We’re very ambitious about TPP membership, so…it might turn out to be quite short term. That’s the problem.”

Can the Paymaster General answer two questions? First, why do the Government believe—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

Order. Just before the right hon. Lady asks any more questions, let me say that she has significantly exceeded her time. I know that we are in a bit of flux, so I will allow her to finish, but I hope that she and others will note that keeping to time is important as a courtesy to others.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The questions I want to ask are these. First, why do the Government believe that signing a veterinary agreement with the EU is incompatible with their ambitions to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Secondly, if the answer is that joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership requires them to diverge from EU standards in relation to food safety, which is the only logical explanation for the comments that Lord Frost has made, can the Paymaster General tell us which specific standards they plan to diverge from?

I urge the Paymaster General, in his first appearance in his new position, to come out of the fantasy world that his predecessors have been living in together with Lord Frost and join us in the real world, together with Britain’s business community—the world of delays and shortages, red tape and bureaucracy, lost business and lost trade. It is a world that demands sensible answers and practical action from the Cabinet Office, not just another Minister addicted to dogma and wishful thinking.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank the right hon. Lady for her welcome and her kind words. I have now been Attorney General, Solicitor General and Paymaster General in the last seven days, so I think I ought to have a uniform. Her opening remarks were very welcome.

The right hon. Lady is quite right, of course, that everything will be considered carefully, and that is why we are asking the British people to assist us in this regard, but she should welcome the opportunities that Brexit has afforded this country. The Labour party’s relentless—may I say poisonous?—negativity about the opportunities of Brexit really is a sight to behold. What about the wonderful positions of this country now that we are free from the shackles of the regulation and bureaucracy, and the burdensome arrangements, that were applied carte blanche to all member states of the European Union?

I urge the right hon. Lady to look at the positives—the fact, for example, that this country is now the No. 1 country in the G7 for economic growth on the GDP front, and that we have a million job opportunities for our constituents and the people of this country. Those are positives. Those are things that have been delivered post Brexit, and work is in progress—negotiations and discussions. She knows well that the matters that she raises are at the forefront of the priorities of this Government and are being worked on keenly.

The right hon. Lady spoke of Lord Frost and his comments about ambition. Of course, Lord Frost and I share—as do the whole Government—the ambition of this country. If only the Labour party shared that ambition, I think that she would find greater support.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. Our report was put together independently, taking full evidence from various areas of industry, services and so on. It represents their views about how best to resolve this issue. They include many who were strong remainers at the time of the debate, as well as those who voted for Brexit. There was no delineation. They all recognise where we are now and how we take advantage of it. I refer my right hon. and learned Friend to that and I thank my noble Friend Lord Frost for being so serious about implementation. One recommendation that I think is vital, and which the Bank of England was very clear it would like to see to help it in its heavy lifting, is to have a committee in the House that reports back on regulation/deregulation to follow up on all this. It should have the powers that, say, the Treasury Committee has, to dig into where the regulators go and whether they are getting the balance of economic advantage right in those regulations. May I ask him and the Government to think again? They have got rid of one regulatory committee, but there is definitely the need for another here to provide trust in the way we regulate.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for the very able work he and his team did in this regard. I have taken note of his point about the Bank of England and a committee. I can say that, even though I have only been in office for a few hours, I have already touched on that with Lord Frost. Further discussions will ensue.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities)

I thank the Paymaster General for his just-in-time approach to giving me foresight of his statement. Will he confirm he recognises that Scots law and the Scots legal framework is protected by the Act of Union, and that they should be treated appropriately during this exercise? I have to say that I very much doubt the majority of Scots will be rushing to do away with new protections enshrined in Scots law and protected by the Scottish Parliament. I am very concerned that this statement comes out at a time when we were expecting some real progress on helping our exporters get through the continuing muddle of exporting to the EU. National Farmers Union Scotland and Scotland Food and Drink are in bits trying to sort out what is happening, so can we have further explanation of what is actually being done in that regard?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I can, of course, confirm that. I know about Scots law, having held the Law Officer roles in this country. We have the greatest respect for Scots law. She is quite right that since 1707 the Act of Union has respected that position and will continue to do so. That is without question. On the point she makes about exports, she knows that these issues are occurring around the world at the moment for myriad reasons. We are working in that regard to improve the situation.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

I welcome the generalissimo to his place on the Front Bench. May I say what a pleasure it is to have been part of this project and to put on record our thanks to the civil servants in the Cabinet Office, led magnificently by Will Hayter? The team did a huge amount of work for us. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there are three big messages from this? First, those who have insisted that there is not regulatory dividend from Brexit, other than rushing to the bottom and slashing standards, could not be more wrong. The approach we have set out here is that, liberated from an inevitably bureaucratic and slow-moving European framework, Britain can lead in setting the standards in clinical trials, AI and other fast-emerging sectors. I say that as a former Minister with responsibility for life sciences and the future of transport, and a former remainer. If we are going to go through this, as we are, let us make it an opportunity where we liberate our entrepreneurs and our innovators.

Secondly, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, crucially, there is a big message for levelling up? If we unlock those new sectors, it is not all about growth in Cambridge and Oxford. In nutraceuticals, functional foods, satellites, robotics and AI there are clusters around the country, including in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. That strengthens the United Kingdom as a centre of innovation.

Thirdly, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, crucially, we need to make sure that this links to international trade; Britain putting in variable tariffs around our standards so that we use our aid, trade and security to fly the flag for the best food, AI and technology, and to make Britain a global hub of innovation?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

My hon. Friend could not be more right, if I can put it that way. Those who were naysayers and gainsayers, those who were so relentlessly negative, are clearly wrong. They now know they are in the wrong. They were saying that nothing could be done to improve this country’s position post Brexit. That is clearly wrong. Britain can lead the world. It is leading the world in many areas and will continue to do so under this Government. We are liberated and we are continuing to liberate our industries, trade and services from the shackles of bureaucracy. We will continue to do that, while at the same time, as he ably says, levelling up the whole of this country.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I listened carefully to the Paymaster General’s statement. A significant amount of legislation has come from Europe to protects workers, whether it is health and safety, workers’ rights or equalities legislation. Will he guarantee that under this new bonfire of regulation he will not diminish any of those workers’ rights, which have been hard-fought for by working people across Europe?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

Of course, this is not about negatively affecting health and safety. This is about supporting workers. This is about supporting business. It is about making life easier for people and building the economy of this country. That is what it will do.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The huge success of the recovery trial for covid treatments and the development, authorisation and delivery of the covid vaccination programme show just some of what we can achieve in Brexit Britain. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give priority to repealing and replacing the clinical trials directive, and replace it with a modern regulatory framework that can lead the world in this important area of health and the economy?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point and we will certainly be looking at that as a priority.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

“Brexit: Opportunities” seems to me very much a contradiction in terms, but I have listened carefully to the exchanges this afternoon. People recognise that we have now left the European Union. Whether we were a leaver or a remainer, that is the reality. I welcome that pragmatism. I urge the Government also to be pragmatic about what happens on the ground. Not everything is as well as it has sometimes been painted. My constituency of Bath is a global tourist destination. Several businesses are now operating shortened hours because of severe staff shortages caused by Brexit and the new immigration system. What are the Government doing in the next 12 months to address these lost economic opportunities in the hospitality sector?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I know the hon. Lady’s constituency well enough to know how beautiful it is. She talks, quite rightly, about its tourism value. The fact of the matter is that tourism has been very negatively affected, tragically, because of the covid-19 pandemic. It is nothing to do with Brexit. The reality is that, of course, we are pragmatic. We will be pragmatic and we listen to all. That is why we want to listen to the British people about how to reduce regulations.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare

I welcome the scale, scope and ambition of the impressive list of intentions that began the Minister’s statement. May I press him on one point, which he mentioned later on? It is a shared point between my report on competition policy, which he kindly mentioned, and the TIGRR report, which is about process ongoing to ensure that we do not return to a pro-regulatory ratchet. The difficulty we all face here is that the entire culture of this place and Whitehall more generally is to invent more rules. That is how we make our bones in this place. We need to have a really robust process that prevents that and puts it into reverse. The one in, two out—with no exceptions and no exemptions—is absolutely essential. I hope he will be able to firm that up and commit to it irrevocably as soon as possible.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area. I agree about the almost inevitable direction of travel, unless there is an intercession, which is what the Government wish and intend to do with my statement today and the announcement that we are going forward with. I repeat my thanks for his work and assure him of our best intentions in regard to fulfilling his wishes.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The Paymaster General is right—Brexit is now a fact—but clearly, the Government see advantage in keeping the grievance going. The EU remains our most important trading partner. It is hugely significant for businesses up and down the country, so instead of turning up the Brexit rhetoric, does he not think that the Government’s priority should be to listen to the problems raised by British business? Will he commit to looking at the recommendations highlighted in relation to those problems in the UK Trade and Business Commission’s report to be published on Monday?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I am happy to confirm that my party is the party of business. We do listen to business, and business prospers in this country under Conservative Governments and will continue to do so. Of course, our ears are open and always will be to views from all sides. That includes and, in fact, specifically in relation to regulations, will include businesses.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I commend my right hon. and learned Friend and his team on their excellent TIGRR report and on his very welcome statement. If he needs a uniform, I am sure Gieves & Hawkes will be happy to oblige him, for a reasonable fee. He said in his statement that we will establish a commission “to receive ideas from any British citizen on how to repeal or improve regulations”. I urge him to go further and include EU citizens—in particular, Michel Barnier, the former chief negotiator, who is now running to be President of France and has developed very strong views about repealing EU legislation that affects France. If he does not want to live under its laws any more, can we ask him to suggest which of its heritage laws we should junk as well? And as the Government will want to get on with it, can we remind Mr Barnier that the clock is now ticking?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

My right hon. Friend makes a very good, apposite point. We will certainly take that back.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

As the Government look to consult on reform to personal data protection policy, concerns have been raised about the potential removal of article 22, which guarantees that people can seek a human review of an artificial intelligence-made decision, creating cause for concern for data protection campaigners. Will the Paymaster General confirm whether the Government have assessed the impact of this potential removal in relation to negotiating trade deals with other countries?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

Of course, the whole area of AI will open up myriad issues such as the one that the hon. Lady referred to. The Government are alive to those points and will take all those issues into careful consideration.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his place and, as Chair of the Justice Committee, thank him for and pay tribute to the admirable way in which he exercised his duties as a Law Officer of the Crown, which he did impeccably. He will know from those previous posts, better than most, the level of complexity that surrounds retained EU law and that removing it will be no less complex. We need to ensure that we do so in a way that does not create legal uncertainty or disadvantage the United Kingdom financial markets, for example, in relation to ongoing, long-term contractual arrangements or financial instruments. Will he make sure that we do this with great care, perhaps working with experts such as TheCityUK and the Financial Markets Law Committee, and that we structure that in such a way that enables financial and legal services to benefit from access to new markets that we may be able to open up as a result of free trade agreements?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for his kind remarks earlier in the House. He is right about legal—as well as financial—services, and this is an opportunity. The legal community that I and he both know in this country is a world leader. We have first-class people who support our legal prowess around the world based right here. We want to do everything we can to further build on that and he is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of that sector. It is important economically, morally and in our leadership around the world, and we will continue to work to support it.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

I am glad to hear that the Paymaster General is looking at new export markets and opportunities, but the problem here and now, and what businesses in my constituency are concerned about, is the increased barriers that have occurred with our biggest trading partner across Europe. Will he undertake to listen to and address those concerns and perhaps outline what impact the changes that he has made today will have in supporting businesses to resolve this situation? Ultimately, it is costing more money for those businesses and costing jobs.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

Of course, we are always listening to business. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is one that we are focusing on. He will also recognise that there are issues around Europe and, indeed, in countries around the world of a similar nature. We are all faced with issues following the pandemic and other circumstances that have arisen and we will continue to support business in all the areas we can.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

First, I welcome the Paymaster General to his position and wish him well. I remind him of his comments when he referred to eliminating the Brexit burden for the United Kingdom, especially for Northern Ireland. Can he outline what steps are being taken to address the disgraceful Northern Ireland protocol regulations, which see empty shelves, increased cost for every Northern Ireland citizen and disregard for the constitutional position of Northern Ireland? I remind him of the petition with 100,000-plus names that came to this House. Will he take the readily available opportunity to resolve this issue and trigger article 16?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. If I may make a personal remark, my mother was born in Northern Ireland and I understand the issues that he refers to. His support for his constituents and the people of Northern Ireland is something that everyone in this House recognises. The Government recognise the importance of our Union and of Northern Ireland and everything will be done that needs to be done to continue to support Northern Ireland.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his new role and thank him for his statement. It is absolutely right that we review retained EU law and do what is right, in the interests of this country, but does he share my concern that there will be some, I suspect even in this House—I know that will shock you, Madam Deputy Speaker—who will see this review as an opportunity to continue the referendum debate and to continue the divisions? Does he share my view that we should now accept that we have left the EU and unite together to not only face some of the challenges that we inevitably face, but grasp the opportunities for the benefit of our whole country?

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

Northern Ireland did not seek Brexit and it has been very destabilising for the region, but from the Social Democratic and Labour party’s pragmatic perspective, we are trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that we have been handed. It is disappointing that Northern Ireland’s unique dual market access is not among the opportunities that the Paymaster General has identified. The fact is that, under the protocol, being at the hinge of the UK and EU single markets is the first unique economic selling point that Northern Ireland has had after decades of sluggishness and low productivity. Will he commit his Government to working with all parties and with the business community in Northern Ireland to allow Northern Ireland to try to make the best of the hand that we have been dealt, in the interests of people and businesses of all communities, by promoting that unique dual market access to businesses in the UK and overseas?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I disagree with the hon. Lady on one thing: I do not think that Northern Ireland has only one unique selling point. I think it has multiple selling points and the people of Northern Ireland are an integral part of this kingdom. Of course, tourism is one element of Northern Ireland that is also a substantial prowess. She does recognise, I know, that in this House, this party and this Government have always focused on supporting the people throughout the United Kingdom, which is why we are pushing the levelling-up agenda that she has been hearing so much about. She will find that that will continue to support her constituents and the people of the whole Province of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I warmly welcome the Paymaster General to his place, and, obviously, I warmly welcome the statement.

One of the many reasons the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke—over 70%—voted to leave the European Union was their wish to see us take back control of our borders. As we are being asked to feed in some ideas, may I feed one idea to the Paymaster General? Let us get out of the European convention on human rights, and then let us scrap the Human Rights Act in this country, so that foreign criminals who are taking advantage of the current system, and economic migrants who are crossing the English channel and entering this country illegally, can be deported very much more quickly than they are now.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

I hear my hon. Friend’s points and of course he knows that we are now taking back control of our borders.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

I, too, warmly welcome the announcement from the new Paymaster General. It means that laws in this country will be made here in this Parliament, which is something that residents throughout Burnley and Padiham very much want to see. Will the Paymaster General confirm that this new approach will go hand in hand with our new free trade agreement policy, ensuring that our absolute focus is on supporting the small and medium-sized enterprises that are the backbone of this country?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General

My hon. Friend is, of course, quite right. With the establishment of the points-based immigration system that I have just mentioned, and the bilateral trade agreements that my hon. Friend has just mentioned—agreements with over 60 countries in addition to the EU, accounting for £889 billion of UK bilateral trade in 2019—things are looking up, and will continue to do so.